55 F.3d 26 (1st Cir. 1995), 94-2281, Guzman-Rivera v. Rivera-Cruz

Docket Nº:94-2281.
Citation:55 F.3d 26
Party Name:Hector GUZMAN-RIVERA, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Hector RIVERA-CRUZ, et al., Defendants, Appellants.
Case Date:May 31, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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55 F.3d 26 (1st Cir. 1995)

Hector GUZMAN-RIVERA, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,

v.

Hector RIVERA-CRUZ, et al., Defendants, Appellants.

No. 94-2281.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 31, 1995

Heard April 6, 1995.

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Jose R. Gaztambide, with whom Luis A. Plaza and Elisa Bobonis Lang were on brief, for appellants.

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Victoria A. Ferrer, with whom Alvaro R. Calderon, Jr. and Alvaro R. Calderon, Jr. Law Offices were on brief, for appellees.

Before BOUDIN, Circuit Judge, BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge, and STAHL, Circuit Judge.

BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge.

This is the second time that this civil rights action has been before us. After being arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for a murder that he did not commit, plaintiff-appellee Hector Guzman Rivera (joined by several family members) sued the Secretary of Justice of Puerto Rico and two other Justice Department officials under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, alleging that the defendants failed to timely reinvestigate the facts of the murder after his conviction, and that they failed to move for his release even after their investigation had established his innocence.

In Guzman-Rivera v. Rivera-Cruz, 29 F.3d 3 (1st Cir.1994) (Guzman I ), we reversed the district court's dismissal of Guzman's suit on statute of limitations grounds. The defendants did not assert absolute immunity as an alternative ground for affirmance, although that defense had been raised below. On remand, just six days before trial was scheduled to begin, the defendants filed an "Urgent Motion for Relief" seeking summary judgment on absolute immunity grounds. We are left to wonder why absolute immunity was originally pled as a defense, abandoned in the initial appeal, and then resurrected as an emergency on remand.

The district court nevertheless denied the motion on the merits, finding genuine issues of material fact as to the nature of the defendants' post-conviction activities. We therefore do not consider the absolute immunity defense waived; it is the sole issue on appeal. From the facts presented in this appeal, we find that the defendants are not entitled to absolute immunity for any delays or inadequacies in their conduct of the investigation. We also find, however, that they are absolutely immune for their post-investigation failure to go into court to seek Guzman's release.

I.

We shall assume, as we did in Guzman I, 29 F.3d at 5, that the plaintiffs' allegations regarding the defendants' authority, duties, acts and omissions are true, and that they are sufficient to allege a violation of federal rights. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, --- U.S. ----, ----, 113 S.Ct. 2606, 2609, 125 L.Ed.2d 209 (1993).

Guzman was convicted of a 1987 murder in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and sentenced to 119 years' imprisonment on June 27, 1989. Beginning on August 21, 1989, his father, Guzman Fernandez, repeatedly corresponded with or met with the defendants: Hector Rivera Cruz, the Secretary of Justice (Puerto Rico's equivalent of a state attorney general); Luis Feliciano Carreras, Director of the Justice Department's Prosecutor's Office and a high-ranking official of the Civil Rights Division; and Carreras' successor, Pedro Geronimo Goyco. Based on his own investigation, which yielded powerful evidence that his son was innocent, Guzman Fernandez requested that defendant Luis Feliciano Carreras order a reinvestigation of the murder. Carerras referred the matter to an attorney with the Civil Rights Division, but refused to do anything more.

After several months of stonewalling, the Civil Rights Division finally investigated Guzman's case. Investigators interviewed three of the true murderer's co-conspirators, who unanimously stated that Guzman was innocent. The head of the Civil Rights Division reviewed the findings of the investigation and concluded that Guzman was innocent. Defendants Pedro Geronimo Goyco and Hector Rivera Cruz refused, however, to move for Guzman's release until the murderer was captured.

On June 11, 1990, Guzman Fernandez told of his son's plight on Puerto Rico television. Several days later, he appealed to the Governor of Puerto Rico. The Governor allegedly ordered defendant Geronimo Goyco to release Guzman. The defendants instructed Guzman's attorneys to file a motion for a new trial under Rule 192.1 of the Puerto Rico Rules of Criminal Procedure. The motion

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was filed on June 15, 1990, and Guzman was released the same day.

II.

Qualified immunity is the defense ordinarily available to public officials who are sued under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Absolute immunity, by contrast, is reserved for the " 'special functions' " of certain officials that resemble functions that would have been immune at common law when Sec. 1983 was enacted. Buckley, --- U.S. at ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2613 (quoting Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 508, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 2911, 57 L.Ed.2d 895 (1978)). In determining whether a particular act fits within the common-law tradition of absolute immunity, the Supreme Court takes a "functional approach," Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 486, 111 S.Ct. 1934, 1939, 114 L.Ed.2d 547 (1991), examining " 'the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it.' " Buckley, --- U.S. at ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2613 (quoting Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 229, 108 S.Ct. 538, 545, 98 L.Ed.2d 555 (1988)).

Under the functional approach, it is immaterial that the defendants were prosecutors ex officio. Absolute immunity protects the prosecutor's " 'role as advocate for the State,' " and not his or her role as an " 'administrator or investigative officer.' " Burns, 500 U.S. at 491, 111 S.Ct. at 1942 (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31, 431 n. 33, 96 S.Ct. 984, 995, 996 n. 33, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976)). Prosecutorial conduct is absolutely immune only if it is "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process...." Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430-31, 96 S.Ct. at 995-96 (holding that state prosecutor had absolute immunity for the initiation and pursuit of a criminal prosecution, including presentation of the state's case at trial). See also Buckley, --- U.S. at ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2614; Celia v. O'Malley, 918 F.2d 1017, 1019 (1st Cir.1990) ("a prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity from suit based on actions taken pursuant to his quasi-judicial function").

We begin by dividing the defendants' challenged conduct into two phases: (1) the delay in performing the post-trial investigation, including any inadequacies in the investigation itself; and (2) the failure to go to court to obtain Guzman's release after the investigation had established his innocence. As the defendants moved from (1) to (2), and as the evidence of Guzman's innocence mounted, their acts became increasingly associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. To illustrate: once Guzman's innocence was established, the...

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